Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and social distancing, the 2020 Tony Awards have been indefinitely postponed and theatremakers and theatregoers everywhere are feeling its absence. It’s the one day a year where live theatre gets recognized, celebrated, and appreciated outside of the theater community. I understand the need to postpone it, especially with how hard New York City has been hit with this virus, but that doesn’t make it any easier. A few weeks ago CBS, the regular network that broadcasts the Tony Awards, announced that in place of the Tony Awards broadcast tonight they will be broadcasting yet another Grease Sing-A-Long to “grace” our TV screens, and theatre artists are OUTRAGED. Just after the announcement, Tony and Grammy Award nominated American performer Jeremy Jordan took to Twitter to make sure his feelings were known.
I will echo his sentiments when I ask, how many theatre artists have seen Grease 100+ times and don’t need to watch a sing-a-long again? I saw people offering alternate broadcast ideas for tonight, so I took some of the ideas and created “The Best of the Tony Awards as Decided by Samantha Baird.”
The Tony Awards happen every June (previously every spring, prior to 1977) to celebrate the productions, performers, and production teams of the shows from the previous year with a few miscellaneous awards as well. With the uncertainty of when or if the 74th Annual Tony Awards will happen, I wanted to share what I believe are the bests of last 5 Tony Awards ceremonies. As I share these bests, please remember how hard it is to get a chance to see performances of every play/musical that is ever released/nominated. My criteria will be based off of the music (as included on the Original Broadway Cast Recordings), reading the scripts (if I have them), research about the characters and plot of the play/musical, and/or my experience with it if I have seen or worked on it in a regional or community theatre setting. Please enjoy and remember, live theatre will be back. You can count on it.
- Best Host (as decided by Opening Performance)
- The Nominees are Kristin Chenoweth/Alan Cumming (2015), James Corden (2016), Kevin Spacey (2017), Sara Bareilles/Josh Groben (2018), and James Corden (2019).
- The Winner is the 2018 Anthem to the Losers, Sara Bareilles & Josh Groban. Watch the performance HERE.
- The Runner-Up is the 2019 Salute to the Magic of Live Broadway by James Corden. Watch the performance HERE.
- Best Best Play
- The Nominees are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2015), The Humans (2016), Oslo (2017), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2018), and The Ferryman (2019).
- The Winner is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2015). Watch the Tony Trailer HERE. Order the script HERE.
- The Runner-Up is The Humans (2016). Watch the Tony Trailer HERE. Order the script HERE.
- Best Best Musical
- Best Tony Performance from Best Musical Winner
- Best Venue
- Excellence in Theatre Education: “Each year [The Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University] invite members of the public to submit candidates for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award by telling the story of a theatre educator who made a difference in their life, and the lives of others. The Excellence in Theatre Education Award recognizes a K-12 theatre educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.” (tonyawards.com) Having only had one theatre teacher from 6th to 12th grade, but many in college, I chose to recognize a university professor who made a difference in my life and the lives of others.
- This year’s recipient of the Excellence in Theatre Education Award (as awarded by Samantha Baird) is Shelley Graham. “Shelley Graham has a BA in theatre education and an MA in theatre history and theory from Brigham Young University. She has worked as a dramaturg and education director for a number of institutions, including Pioneer Theatre Company, American West Heritage Center, and Utah Lyric Opera. She was the resident dramaturg at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo for a number of years before taking her current position at BYU. She serves as the performing arts chair for the Mormon Arts Foundation and as Dramaturgy Co-Chair for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region VIII. She is currently Dramaturgy Supervisor in the Theatre and Media Arts department at BYU.” (BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department) Below are statements from myself and other former and current students of Shelley.
- “The summer after my freshman year at Brigham Young University is when I decided to try college theatre. I took Introduction to Theatre with Shelley Graham and I loved it. I already had a love for theatre but a huge part of my experience (and my decision to continue with theatre) was Shelley’s teaching style and how much I could tell that she truly cared about her students. A couple semesters later I declared myself a theatre major. Fast forward to my (first) senior year. I needed 3 more credits to reach my credit requirement for scholarship. I didn’t really know what dramaturgy was but I saw it was taught by Shelley and I remembered loving her teaching style in my Intro to Theatre class a couple years prior. So I took Introduction to Dramaturgy. Since then I have worked as dramaturg on many productions and I’ve realized it was the area of theatre I had been looking for all along. It was exactly what I needed and what I wanted to do with my life. I just didn’t know it until Shelley showed it to me.” ~Samantha Baird
- “Shelley lights up a room with her presence; she is a friend to all; she listens, she gets it, she cares. She’s out-side-the-box creative, talented, and skilled enough to put anything together! She’s supportive of others’ ideas and able to help make them happen!” ~Pollyanna Eyler
- “I had just started out in my dramaturgy path when I met Shelley— I was meeting with Wade [Hollingshaus at BYU] to find out more about it when Shelley happened to walk by. He called her in to tell her there was a new dramaturgy inquirer and she rushed in and excitedly greeted me, telling me that dramaturgy was THE BEST and she would love to have me. Sure enough, I entered her tutelage and had the time of my life. The greatest lesson she taught me was how to be kind under pressure, compassionate in the face of harshness, and to keep my own personal boundaries. These were perhaps some of the hardest lessons for me to learn as they dealt with some fatal flaws of mine… but they have made all the difference. Whenever I don’t know what to do or how to react, I just think, ‘What would Shelley Graham do?'” ~Hannah Gunson-McComb
- “When I think of Shelley, the word that comes to mind is intuitive. She has a clear sense of the way that things are, and the way that things could be. Shelley is the kind of person that you can communicate with openly and honestly, and she immediately senses the problem present and works hard to come up with a solution. It’s like she already knows what you are thinking, which was creepy when I was first starting out. As I have studied under her, I’ve learned a little bit about the art of intuition- figuring out the needs of a production, a person, or a play before the director/playwright/performer asks for help with it. Shelley has taught me to be gracious, understanding, and available. She has never made me feel like I wasn’t good enough or like I needed to change who I was in order to accomplish what I wanted to do. She is an amazing dramaturg, and a one-of-a-kind professor.” ~Daniel Mesta
- “Shelley’s enthusiasm and kindness make the theatre department a special place. Thank you Shelley for helping me find my way!” ~Angela Moser
- “It is not even a question that I would not be where I am today without Shelley. Theatre has always been a passion of mine, but Shelley helped me find a profession within my passion that I’m actually quite decent at. Over the time that she taught me, I gained knowledge and confidence in my abilities as a dramaturg. I mean, Shelley really did bring out the best of my abilities and helped me achieve success. She truly is an inspiration and a genuine role model, I wish her the absolute best every day.” ~Richelle Sutton
I hope you enjoyed watching and reading about my opinion of the best of the last 5 years of the Tony Awards and remember to support your local theatres!